Tensions between Gaza and Israel have been heating up over the last few days. On Sunday, the Israeli army reported that two Grad rockets were fired into Southern Israel from Sinai. On Monday, three terrorists crossed into Israel from Sinai and killed an Israeli construction worker, Said Fashapshe, a 36 year-old father of four. Israeli Golani soldiers were able to kill two of the terrorists after a prolonged gun battle, and reported that explosives were found on the terrorists’ bodies. The Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem, a previously unknown terrorist group that is believed to have links to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Several hours later, the Israeli Air Force responded by targeting a motorbike in southern Gaza. The Israeli Defense Force reported that Ghaleb Armilat was killed in the strike, and a second man, Mohammad Rashdan, was severely injured. There are conflicting reports as to which Islamic cell the two men belonged; The New York Times cites an organization called Tawhid and Jihad, which also has links to al-Qaida, while The Times of Israel credits the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem. However, both men are believed to have been involved in the planning of Monday’s attack.
In response to the Israeli strike, a variety of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have fired rockets and mortars from Gaza in to Israel. Over 75 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Monday night, 55 on Wednesday alone. Israel’s acclaimed Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system has so far intercepted one rocket launched towards the Israeli town of Netivot.
The IDF has responded with a series of air strikes on Hamas training camps and rocket launching areas. At least six Palestinians have been killed since the strikes began, including a 14 year-old, whom the IAF said was killed in a strike on a rocket launching cell in the northern Gaza Strip.
Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said, “The terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border, in which an Israeli civilian was killed and a larger attack was prevented by IDF action, along with the ongoing rocket fire on the communities of Southern Israel, reflects our enemies’ intent to harm Israeli civilians. In the face of these threats stands a strong and powerful IDF, prepared to respond to any threat, any time.”
On Tuesday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom added, “The more things deteriorate, the closer we come to a decision we don’t want to make… [but] the prospect of a ground operation [in the Gaza Strip] shouldn’t frighten us.”
Egypt has attempted to broker a cease-fire, but so far has been unsuccessful. Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s militant wing, released a written statement saying that they are willing to halt the rocket attacks. “Responding to the Egyptian efforts, we and the armed resistance announce our commitment to stop this round of confrontation as long as the occupation stops this aggression.”
Israeli officials have not yet commented on a potential ceasefire. However, Israel has filed an official complaint with the United Nations.
With the emergence of a new group like the Mujahideen Shura Council of Jerusalem, the IDF and Israeli defense community are becoming increasingly concerned about the lawlessness of the Sinai Peninsula. Since the fall of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the buffer area has become a hub of weapons and people trafficking, and it is thought that groups like al-Qaida and its affiliates have begun activities there.
Military governor of north Sinai, Maj. Gen. Abdul Wahab Mabrouk, however, told the Middle East News Agency that Egypt “fully secures its border with Gaza and Israel and the borders are fully under its control.”
Rob Lattin is Jspace News' Foreign Affairs Correspondent. In addition to covering foreign affairs for Jspace, Rob is a blogger on Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for the Foreign Policy Association, as well as a freelance writer. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.